The DPS Oversight Committee can’t seem to catch a break. After finally achieving proper representation, it received yet another blow to its ability to investigate Department of Public Safety misconduct when the University president was made arbiter of the validity of complaints. This veto power is a clear and shameful conflict of interest, as well as an attack on the spirit of the state law which established DPS and its oversight committee in the first place. If the University wants DPS to have any semblance of legitimacy as a protective body, it must ensure that it has a robust and independent oversight committee.
In February, the appeal process for complaints heard by the DPS Oversight Committee was revised. Previously, if the director of DPS objected to the hearing, he could appeal to the executive vice president. If that person supported the appeal, it would be sent to the president, who would then ask the Board of Regents for a final decision on whether the complaint lay within the jurisdiction of the committee. Under the new rules, the Board of Regents is taken out of the equation and the president is given the authority to dismiss complaints.
The effect of this rule change is evident in the recent case of Dr. Andrei Borisov. After clear misconduct by DPS officers, Borisov filed a complaint with the DPS Oversight Committee. This is undoubtedly a case that calls for an in-depth, transparent investigation. But such an investigation is jeopardized by the president’s power to dismiss the complaint as outside the jurisdiction of the committee. University President Mary Sue Coleman should allow the hearings to proceed, lest the administration cast another dark shadow upon the events surrounding Borisov’s termination.
But this situation demonstrates a lesson that should have been learned in high school civics: the need for checks and balances. Any entity with power over a group of people must have legitimate, independent oversight to ensure that it stays within the limits of its authority. Making the president the judge of a complaint’s validity willfully ignores this reality. Instead, an unalienable conflict of interest has been created, as it is always against the immediate interest of the University for DPS misconduct to be publicized. The opaque veil of secrecy that seems to encapsulate the University and DPS bureaucracy has been further entrenched by this change.
The DPS Oversight Committee should be the sole arbiter of whether DPS acted inappropriately. In order for the committee to do its job properly, it must be insulated from pressure by administrators, who will always claim that DPS is acting properly to protect the University’s public image. Allowing anyone in the administration to have the authority to dismiss complaints against DPS makes the committee less of an independent overseeing body and more of a way to quietly sweep wrongdoing under the rug. Even giving the Board of Regents the final decision provides too much of an opportunity for administrators to exert their influence. The committee must operate as a fully empowered and independent entity.
The DPS Oversight Committee is the only reason that DPS can be called a legal, legitimate, protective force. But in light of recent events, that portrayal is becoming harder to believe.